Thursday 17 November 2016

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

High awareness can be a double-edged sword if you don’t know how to channel it.

Once in 2016 I wrote the above reflection and the following is a further elaboration based on life experiences as well as some vigorous research.

I recently saw a middle-aged man picking up cigarette butts from the main sand-ashtray by my building in Venice Beach. Later that same day, I saw another one pick up the leftover from the nearby garbage. This got me pondering and reminded of a time not so long ago when witnessing things like these would deeply affect me.

One of the first times I specifically recall is when in the mid ’90s I went with my mother to an orphanage in Cairo where I got to meet a ‘sister’, Camellia, who must have been around 10 or 11-years-old then. I had heard a lot about the place from my mom and aunt, and how they sustain the girls by paying for their education and donating clothes, but I have never met the girls or been there myself. 

After meeting Camellia and Mabrouka, the girl my aunt was sponsoring, and the rest of the young orphan girls, at some point 20-year-old me was overwhelmed by such intense emotions, that I had to leave the room and go out to wipe my tears without anyone noticing. Having a pony tail, goatee, and dark Oakleys on — which helped conceal the flood coming down from my eyes — I did look like a cool, masculine guy who got it together. Though from the inside, the sensation or the energy I was picking up was haunting me. And it came out in the form of tears.

Occurrences like these were a constant in my life, but I didn’t know what to make of them. I knew it wasn’t some sort of weakness as it may be portrayed, because I never saw myself as a weak person. Yet they caused me a considerable amount of chagrin. 

This hyperawareness of thoughts and emotions was radically intensified after my induction to mind-altering entheogens at around the same time, and has been growing ever sense. At the time, to deal with those new, expanded doors of perceptions I felt the need to block them in certain ways. Simply because I was overthinking my acute awareness, which had a direct impact on my emotions. The continual flow of information was too much to handle as I didn’t know what to do with it.

Moreover, living a fortunate life in Egypt made me think of the other 70 millions or so who are barely alive. I have tried many different paths to shut off the unceasing sensations and to find peace, but self-medicating with drugs was what had truly made me detach. Of course, this self-destructive coping strategy eventually ended up with an addiction problem.

Now, if you are one of those who sense ‘things’ so intensely and can seamlessly put themselves in others’ shoes you cannot help but to feel quite different at some point. You begin thinking if there might be something wrong with you. But there isn’t, you see. Truth is, heightened awareness is a gift. As I found out later in life, just like all gifts, you simply need to learn how to channel it.

Years after when I healed myself from the painkillers, it took me a while to be able to deal with the outside world without being zonked on some substance or the other. After leaving everything behind and moving to Toronto and getting healthy, I came to realise that coming back to life was overwhelming to my mind as well as to my senses. After all, I numbed mine for almost a decade, so they needed enough time to heal. Not just from the dependence, but from the mindset as well. 

At the time, my senses were awakening from their deep slumber; they were revived and their acuity intensified even more, which is a natural advanced phase in the recovery process. After leading a toxic life for years, I was back to spending time outdoors, going on camping trips, and learning how to cook while remembering how to properly feed myself. 

The term “emotional sobriety” is often used to explain that transgressive stage past the physical sobriety.

I recall once then seeing a blind man getting on the subway with my dog Caramella and I. The mere fact that he was living his life and riding the subway made me feel like such a pansy. I have had all the health and opportunities anyone could ask for yet chose to screw up with my chemistry and biology. So my eyes opened up like tap water. 

Another time also in Toronto, one sunny morning I was in the balcony when I saw a 10-year-old boy on a wheelchair playing tennis in front of my building. I was so bewitched by the scene, that I took the camera and Caramella and went down to get a closer look. I was able to stealthily capture a few shots, one of which is featured below. My eyes were uncontrollably sobbing Here as well. 

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
Your Only Disability Is In Your Mind— Part of
Photos I Shot That Brought Tears To My Eyes

So the extra sensation was indeed still there. It is part of who I am and there is no running away from your own psyche. No matter how hard and long you try to block the flow, you need to accept, befriend, and love who you are if you ever want to be able to peacefully deal with that outside world.

Then, through some practice over the course of several years, and after enough emotions had come out, I unburdened myself from my own unresolved issues. When I did that, I stopped getting exceedingly affected by my surrounding energies as I used to. I have found a way to shield myself from being bombarded by the constant flow of information. It is like setting up some kind of protective shell around you; not as a bubble to disconnect as it happens with drugs, but more of a selection tool which allows you to filter the input while directing your awareness of it towards something useful.

How did I tune my antennas? Through a combination of Conscious Living, mindfulness, meditation, solitude, and, artistic creativity. 

During this time of change I took writing as a vocation and began sharing my life. A little bit after, I received a message from a reader, telling me that I must be an empath: a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), as someone with Extrasensory Perception (ESP). She also predicted that I am an INFJ regarding the Personality Test devised by Carl Jung, which she was right about. However, recently the ‘Judging’ has slightly been surpassed by ‘Perceiving’ as I found out when I retook the test in later years — making me more of an INFP.

I was acquainted with Jung’s test, yet didn’t know the word ‘empath’. After reading about the phenomenon, everything made perfect sense. Most, if not all, the common traits were familiar to me and I could relate to them. Needing solitude to recharge, an ecclesiastic kind of bonding with animals, and dislike of crowded places, drama, tension, and, yes, TV. I was truthfully happy there was a term for what I have been experiencing for most of my life, as I was happy to know that I was not alone.

Interestingly, many more readers throughout the following years have reached out to me, mentioning being empaths themselves. The occurrence is certainly widespread and a quick scroll through Google would show you an abundance of related studies, articles, and online tests. Some were more legit than others, yet the term ‘empath’ seems to be everywhere nowadays, including social media.  

Further research was needed to better understand the case.

A term used in psychology to describe what is an ‘empath’ is Empathic Accuracy or Mindsight. Coined in 1988 by psychologists William Ickes and William Tooke, it describes how one person can accurately infer the thoughts and feelings of another person. It had been found that some people can process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly than others. This “sixth sense” gives them the ability to ‘read’ others’ emotions, motivations, and mindsets, which do not necessarily appear on the surface.

In 1990s, another term to follow was coined by psychologists Elaine Aron and husband Arthur Aron: Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). It is described as a personality trait which defines a highly sensitive person (HSP). It includes hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity. 

Empathic Accuracy allows one to see beyond what others project; behind the mask we all tend to wear — the unedited version. 

This is why it usually doesn’t take an empath more than a few moments to see through a person’s essence, even if they just met. It is also why it may be significantly hard to lie to them.

On the same note, from the side of the empath, once you start seeing through people’s bullshit it becomes almost impossible to pretend that you cannot see. It is as if you actually sort of force others to get real with you.

Bear in mind that being an ‘empath’ is different than “feeling empathy” or being merely sensitive.  It is coupled with sincere compassion and a certain degree of intuition. It is also linked to other psychological concepts such as Mentalisation as well as the field of cognitive neuroscience. The reason I am saying this is that throughout the past several years, we can see that the term ‘empath’ seems to have become à la mode — being loosely used left and right, particularly on social media and within the New Age realm. It seems that for some, identifying as an empath is done to either feel special about oneself or to attract attention, or perhaps a certain degree of both.

In the age of technology and instant gratification, today the Internet is full of 10-question Am I An Empath quizzes, which are largely designed to make people feel good about themselves.   Fortunately, however, there are equally sources about
fake empaths” and how, depending on its usage, the term has almost become synonymous to narcissist.   

As such, at some point during my inquiry I had to ask myself if I was not one of those people.
In hope to keep my views balanced, as much as possible, I wondered if what I feel — or have been feeling deep within my inner being is real? Could it be a mere illusion, or some kind of weakness and/or vulnerability?

Then I remembered this peculiar sensation reaching my each and every nerve ending along with the tears accompanying it. As mentioned, this kept naturally occurring
throughout many years when I would come across a sad sight or possibly even think about one. And not everyone can unwillingly jump into people’s shoes or feel things so intensely in such a way. But some indeed can.

Empaths, it seems, are born with strong awareness centres in their brain, which leads them to be highly sensitive. However, in the absence of emotional maturity and a wholesome understanding of life, this gift can indeed be a double-edge sword; it can turn into a curse, causing disruption, imbalance, and suffering. Just because one has high awareness and sensitivity does not mean they have enough wisdom to understand what life is about. Think of how being a highly sensitive kid could be alienating to them, even crippling at times.

Accordingly, empathic minds are dubbed “emotional sponges” because they are able to ‘catch’ the energies of others. The picking up often happens subconsciously without them realising it; the positive energies as well as the negative, which naturally becomes quite overwhelming. Thoughts and emotions can flow through them so deeply, that if they don’t know how to protect themselves it will be exceedingly hard to lead happy lives. 

As a defence mechanism and as a distraction, some can lose themselves in others and their problems. A reason why HSPs frequently seek relief or escape in substance abuse or overeating among a multitude of other compulsive behaviours.

The same spirit echoes with what the sage mystic Manly P. Hall had eloquently expressed in Adventures in Understanding.

The emotions of man are far more powerful than his mind, and the emotions have never been well educated. We have marvellous universities for the training of the mind; we have magnificent institutions where individuals are given skills in arts and sciences; but the emotions are almost completely immature and undisciplined.”

In relationships, there are no average for empaths. It is rather more of an either-or world. Either they would be living happy, intimate, successful relationships with their partners, or, ones which aren’t truly functional. The reason of the dysfunctionality may be due to their incapacity to deal with their own heightened sensitivities, or it may be due to their partners’ inability to relate. Without compromise, eventually a gap between them is birthed and separation might follow.

If you happen to be in a relationship with an empath, this List of things to remember should be useful.

Conventional wisdom teaches that true understanding of life develops through observation, experience, introspection, and reasoning. One must equally possess empathy and compassion to be able to relate to their fellow Brethren. Empathy, however, is a multidimensional construct which differs from person to person.

This brings us to what is known as Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ) which is the ability to recognise, identify, and manage our own emotions as well as those of others. In regards of being fully human, said intelligence of the heart, or its awareness, may seem more important than the brain intelligence, or IQ. For sometimes, what we need is a warm heart rather than a brilliant mind.

Conversely, according to studies in the field of neuroscience, to achieve empathic accuracy, emotional empathy must be coupled with cognitive empathy — Theory of Mind, the one relying on reasoning rather than sole emotions.

That is to say that for a balanced approach, cognitive empathy should play a fundamental role in the equation. 

You only need to consider the myriads of intelligent people who are not leading happy lives due to being emotional wrecks. This is due to an imbalance between the thoughts in their heads and their emotions. As long as there is no reconciliation between both parts, trouble will always remain.

On that same note, Theory of Mind: Thinking About Thinking and the Benefits of Observing the Observer is another piece dedicated entirely to the topic.

Further research has shown that the ability to empathise with the pain of others “is rooted in cognitive neural processes that differ from the strictly sensory processes used to perceive and experience one’s own pain”.

Still, beyond the brain and the heart, the third and perhaps the ‘highest’ and most altruistic and influential type of empathy is Compassionate Empathy. While cognitive empathy is being aware of the emotions of others, and emotional empathy is sensing them, compassionate empathy is a selfless desire to help them deal with their own emotions and situations.

As we have seen, the key for an empath lies in ‘channeling’ what their awareness picks up from the collective consciousness. Picking the signals up, welcoming them as guests, then letting them go; as if meditating and dealing with our own thoughts and emotions. Not need to fret or obsess about the sensory input, just observe and release. This is the only way to protect yourself and your gift while gaining inner knowledge and remaining of service to the world. With enough practice, the energy shield around you will happen to filter the incoming data all naturally.

For more details, check Empathic Perspective, which is a well-presented blog dedicated to empaths. 

“If you feel pain, you are alive. And if you feel other people’s pain, you are a human being.”
— Leo Tolstoy

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
Tears are how the soul cleanses itself; embrace them. By Noella Ledrew

Now, when I see those poor guys picking from the trash or a homeless guy reading a book, it still touches me as I still sense their pain. Yet, I choose to reflect upon it, maybe even write about it, rather than carrying it on and feeling sorrow and remorse or thinking about how unfair life is and tear up. This is where art and creativity came to my rescue; this is how I found a way to express myself.

It is of significance to mention that without having dealt with my own emotional baggage, nothing was going to change when it comes to getting affected by those every-day life scenes and interactions with others. The only thing they do is get what is already inside out to the surface. Therefore we need to let go if we ever want to set ourselves free. 

I further taught myself how to see that little light in every darkness — the other side of the coin — by remembering to be grateful for what I have. I use these moments to connect to my humanhood and fellow Earthlings while always trying to perceive the good in every situation, no matter how small or hidden it may be. 

Finally, I came to accept the misfortunes and suffering in the world, which is the only way to overcome evil. There will always be wars and murder and rape and abuse among more awful acts. Though I’m not carrying that inexplicable “Messiah Complex” burden over my shoulders anymore. It is such a relief which younger me thought would never come. But it did and I felt liberated. My existence feels lighter and it even seems that I breathe better.

Things I Got Rid Of To Become Happier is a list article covering what I did beside all this. 

As humans with a language made up of symbols, we tend to put labels on everything we perceive and experience. Unbeknownst to us, this tends to confuse the observation or experience itself — our reality — with our thoughts and emotions about them. The brain then creates its own scenarios which eventually come to convince us that this is it. But we are not our thoughts as I have previously discussed in The Parable Of The Cow. 

We are conscious of them, while they are not conscious of us. They don’t sit to think about us and ruin their day and life; they barely even know us. It’s actually us who create them; it’s us who bring upon the nonsense...

…Thoughts come and go. They are ephemeral, they are transient, they are temporary; just like the ocean waves, always in motion. We, are not. We are temporary only in the physical sense

True awareness lies in the power of pure observation. It is our ability to observe without the corresponding thoughts and emotions; no analysis, judgment, evaluation, or obsession are needed. Our thoughts are programmed to create interpretations of the outside world in the same way sensations create emotions. Imaginary ‘events’ then invade the mind. They create problems that were never there and drain our energy, which is followed by worrying and overthinking about the imaginary scenarios. It could truly lead to a miserable loop of a life... or madness. 

This whole process, however, can be observed through pure awareness. When you go higher than the non-sense our thoughts and emotions usually generate you end up by not taking part in it; in the same way an eagle rises above the storm. A reason how the fuscous storms life occasionally throws at us teach us how to fly. For in each cloud there is a silver lining.

To achieve such clarity and reach peace of mind one should train themselves to assume the role of the observer, even the observer of the observer if they are seeking a higher plan of knowledge. In truth, we can be aware of the thoughts, emotions, and surrounding as a pure observer without trying to analyse, interpret, or change the course of nature. This is how high awareness and empathetic accuracy give us the change to smoothly flow through life without being negatively affected by whatever is going on around us.

Be Water, My Friends.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
― Rumi

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